Eight Dates Challenge – Week One – Trust and Commitment

It almost never fails that when Joella and I are introduced to new people and they find out that we are both Marriage and Family Therapists either one of two lines will follow.  Either, “You guys must have the perfect marriage… I bet you never fight.”  or “Wow, I bet you guys can really duke it out!”  This always highlights for me that we live under the impression that relationships are either “good” or “bad”.  That either partners get along, or they don’t.

I believe that this oversimplification is what keeps a lot of couples stuck in a state of continual co-isolation and distress.  Couples therapy, the way we see it, often revolves around undoing that oversimplification and helping couples see the vast array of ways that we “couple.”  And yes… I’m using couple as a verb!

Joella and I had been considering using the Eight Dates to help couples build some of the principles into their daily lives.  But over time, we’ve developed a personal and professional value that we don’t ask clients to do things that we wouldn’t do ourselves.  So we’ve decided to do the series first, blog some of our reflections on the experience.  We believe that it is certainly worth purchasing the book, so we will refrain from getting too in depth regarding the specific exercises and keep it to a summary of our own experience.

WEEK ONE

LOGISTICS:

Week one required about 37 pages of reading on the introductory principles behind the work.  This primer is very helpful and sets the tone for the rest of the book.  Like a good therapist, it explains why it is important to do the work, and fleshes out the “how” on what it actually looks like to incorporate these practices and teaches some basic communication skills.  Once you complete the intro, you move on to the Chapter One that outlines the theme of the first week’s date, which is “Trust and Commitment”.

TAKEAWAY:

The most important thing that I took away from the first week’s Trust and Commitment Topic was that creating the habit of going on dates is a practical way to incorporate the practice of commitment and trust.  In order to even go on a date, you have to block out time on the calendar in order to prioritize your relationship, you have to select a location, you prepare yourself and then you show up.  Any guesses what gets built when you repeatedly create time and space for someone, intentionally prepare and actually show up?  It’s simple… Trust!

This date gave us an opportunity to review the ways that we had learned about the meaning of commitment and trust from our families-of-origin, from our education and from our life experience.  When you create space to review things like that, you have the opportunity to ask yourselves the question, “So we learned it that way… is that working for us now?  Is that the way we want to keep doing it?”

The first date also touches on a theme that we’ve been highlighting from the very first days of our clinical training and continue to say over and over again in session after session.  Commitment is more than the words you say at a ceremony.  Commitment is something that you make  choices about every day.  Effective commitment is the process of choosing your partner every day… choosing the life that you build together.

As Gottman, Gottman, Abrams and Abrams (2018) said in the first chapter,

“We choose it even when we are tired and overworked and stressed out. We choose it no matter what attractive person crosses our path.  We choose it every time our partner makes a bid for our attention and we put down our book, or look away from the television or up from our smartphone…to acknowledge their importance in our life.”

If I had to choose a single thing to frame from this chapter it would be the previous quote.  If we were unable to choose commitment on a daily basis, regardless of circumstances, it would be very difficult, if not downright impossible to build trust, or put together any of the pieces of the relationship puzzle that the rest of the Eight Dates book covers.

Even as an experienced couples therapist, I still enjoy being reminded that many of the events and dynamics that seem to perplex us in relationships can be traced back to choices that we make on a daily basis.  Holding on to this perspective shift really puts us in the driver’s seat in our own lives and relationships.

Speaking of driver’s seats… Next week, in the disagreement chapter, I get to learn how to take ownership of the fact that I drive way too slowly and that can be stressful for my partner 😉

See you all next week!

 

Escape Rooms and Therapy

A friend recently told me about their experience trying out Bend Escape Room. In case you are not sure what I am talking about here is a summary of the games growing popularity.

I had two take aways from listening:

One, people are genuinely interested in spending more time with other human beings. In a world with exponential growth in technology and a variety of ways to avoid human interactions, things like Escape Rooms, outdoor sports and recreation, therapy, coaching, and shared office spaces keep growing and growing. It seems every time I hear of a potential job market becoming obsolete I hear an equal increase in these interactive spaces.

Secondly, people are searching for paths to connection. There is a shift in society from behind the computer screen to these spaces where ideas are built upon and connections form. It seems there is an underlying realization that human beings need each other. We need collaboration, cooperation, and all of the fine skills required.

Psychotherapy not only provides the skills necessary for collaboration and cooperation, it is also a space to try out those skills. After all, psychotherapy in my opinion should be an exercise in my expertise in relationships/emotional wellbeing and my client’s expertise in their own life. Therapy requires us to work collaboratively and cooperate toward a shared goal. Those skills then translate to your friends, family, and professional environments… which then translates to their friends, family, and professional environments.

It is all about connection!

Thanksgiving Guilt

Last year at this time I addressed boundaries and how to use them effectively to have a good holiday season.

After giving a presentation to my community about boundaries and family of choice I heard a resounding theme.

Guilt.

It seemed the crowd had a great grasp on the concept of boundaries including how to use them and how to make them effective. The questions came as we shifted the focus to family of choice.

Family of choice refers to those who find the holidays are best spent with the family members they have chosen. Some times these are blood relatives, some times they are friends collected along the way.  These are the people who make up the inner circle of your world. They are the people you trust fully and are there for you through thick and thin.

Two reminders:

  1. Guilt is a feeling associated with doing something wrong. Usually intentionally wrong. Or how dictionary.com puts it “the fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, especially against moral or penal law; culpability:He admitted his guilt.

  2. When one gets married and especially when they have children, this is your family. Parents, siblings, and other relationships take a back seat to your marriage and children.

I suggest another word for the feeling associated with recognizing that a family of choice doesn’t include a parent(s) or sibling(s).

Sad.

It sucks. No one in the world likes recognizing that a family member or someone they were raised by or raised with has a negative impact on them and their partner or children. And often those who need to build a family of choice the most have given way too much time, thought, consideration, and has given too many second chances.

Let go. Grieve. And give yourself permission to spend your holidays with people who make you feel loved, connected, and cared about.

 

 

When to seek Couples Therapy:

It can be difficult to tell when you need outside help in your relationship. Relationships go through phases just like people and sometimes the stress we feel is simply a point of growth. However, when the stress or issue begins to inhibit growth and linger, it’s important to tend to the issue. Also if these behaviors or interactions occur for a long period of time or become primary ways of coping in the relationship they are red flags.

  1. You stop talking and start avoiding: Is there a topic you can no longer discuss because both of you get to mad or hurt? Is there a topic that you have discussed at great length with no resolution or understanding? When both partners begin giving up on finding understanding, it is an issue. It can be beneficial to have a professional guide you two to better understanding of one another instead of just avoiding.
  2. Withholding affection or stonewalling: when one or both partners participate in this behavior it is dooming the relationship. The good news is it’s just a coping skill, with therapy you can find more productive ways to move through issues.
  3. Keeping secrets: It doesn’t matter if they are financial, emotional, or any other type of secret, keeping secrets in a long term relationship doesn’t work.
  4. If you feel like the only problem is your partner. That isn’t how relationships work. It takes two people to build a relationship and chances are your behavior or attitude could be fueling what you don’t like in your partner. Keeping yourself stuck in the victim seat only prevents both of you from growing together building the life you do want.
  5. When one or both of you can no longer lighten up once in a while. When the topics or issues being avoided or the pattern that gets you two no where is so large you are no longer having date nights or having a good time together that’s when it is time to see a professional. Relationships need care and attention to survive.

 

Showing up for life 

The theme of my week has been the importance of showing up. In a world where with the click of a mouse and/or the swipe of a debit card we can send condolences, comfort, and pseudo connection I’ve been struck by the power of showing up. No one can read your mind and often our intentions are assumed by others. By showing up we communicate our thoughts and intent clearly. 

Here are some ideas of how to show up in your life for those most important to you:

Take flowers to someone

Say thank you in person

Look people in the eye

Compliment what you admire

Shake someone’s hand

If you love them, say it! Again and again.

When you feel the urge to say just about anything to make someone feel better; hug them instead.

Hold your loved ones hand

Be patient with emotion. Feelings come and go but some linger… that’s ok.

Human interaction truly matters. Don’t let the digital world fool you into thinking otherwise.

Co-Couples Therapy

To be honest, I am just as surprised as you.

There is a part of me that has been trained by our society to believe that there is no way something I enjoy so much could benefit the world. Isn’t work supposed to be dull and mundane?

Long ago when I graduated with my masters degree in marriage and family therapy and Michael started his, we had hoped one day to work together. At that time, we thought working together in our own private practice built on our convictions was the dream.

Instead, over the last year we have found our calling.

Working with couples together.

I am intentional about naming it a “calling.” It isn’t niche, we didn’t build this practice with this service in mind. We have yet to discover a sustainable way to bill or market it, but it is working. We are seeing couple after couple walk away reporting a stronger more fulfilling relationship. We are helping couples identify what is working for them and the narratives or beliefs that hold them back. We are creating a space in which more perspectives equates more options. We hold space for gender roles and rules, not just from one genders perspective.

Stop in for a free 20 minute consultation to see if this is calling you too!

Call – text – connect  (541) 639-2986

 

 

Unified Couples

“One of the largest, strongest horses in the world is the Belgian draft horse. Competitions are held to see which horse can pull the most, and one Belgian can pull eight thousand pounds. The weird thing is if you put two Belgian horses in the harness who are strangers to each other, together they can pull twenty to twenty four thousand pounds. Two can pull not twice as much as one but three times as much as one. This example represents the power of synergy. However, if the two horses are raised and trained together they can learn to pull and think as one. The trained, and therefore unified, pair can pull not only twenty four thousand pounds but will hit thirty to thirty-two thousand pounds. The unified pair can pull an extra eight thousand pounds simply by being unified.” – Dave Ramsey EntreLeadership

Early on in my career as a Marriage and Family Therapist I could sense the power of  working with couples. For many therapists and counselors it is fear inducing to be in a room with two people who are so in sync. However, I have always found it intriguing. Couples who are committed to one another and share a future, are powerful both in their relationship and individually. There is a synergy that gets created between two people. And when couples are unified, nearly every area of their life is impacted with that power.

At the same time, that same energy can also tear couples apart. And it can happen quickly. Like I shared in a previous blog, 3 Reasons Couples Therapy is so Important, when couples face issues it can feel terribly isolating. On top of that, it is common for partners to begin to build elaborate stories about the hows, whats, and whys their partner is hurting them. Assumptions start to compound the issues and suddenly a miscommunication feels like a free fall into the abyss for both partners.

I always remind couples that their job is to work together and put me out of work. It seems couples therapy is always more work up front than people anticipate and at the same time, when communication and connection starts to improve the synergy snaps back much faster than they anticipated.

Cultivate and nurture that synergy. It makes a couple a force to be reckoned with!